A single, devastating California fire season wiped out years of efforts to cut emissions of greenhouse gases from power plants. But the damage already done to the climate has been compounded by the rapid advance of renewable energy.
While a few months ago, California power plant operators celebrated the arrival of some of their earliest renewable energy contracts—in December 2015, they signed an agreement to purchase 2,000 megawatt hours of wind power by early 2016—they are now grappling with the prospect of losing them, in what is likely to be a long-term trend.
The California governor, Jerry Brown, who has been the driving force behind the state’s aggressive embrace of renewables, said that he wanted to be “re-energized” by the arrival of renewable energy.
Even the federal government, now focused on an energy overhaul at its top levels, has acknowledged California’s energy crisis.
A major study last year issued by the Department of Energy concluded that the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have failed to prevent “significant climate change.”
The analysis, which was part of a sweeping review of economic, environmental and energy policy, noted that California’s “prosperity is heavily dependent” on energy from “unreliable, carbon-intensive fossil fuel sources” and concluded that “the state’s progress in reducing emissions in recent years has been insufficient.”
The state continues to fight the findings, saying that the study uses outdated data. But the criticism is starting to have an effect on the state’s energy debate.
While renewable energy is now a major player, its growth is far from assured.
It is still hard to say how much of it will make up for the losses to power plants, and no one can make that prediction with certainty. Still, as the California outlook has changed, it has become increasingly common for solar and wind contracts to be awarded to non-California operators on the grounds that they are willing to pay higher prices to take on the risk of California’s long-term grid failures.
The trend toward more energy from outside California has not gone unnoticed by the